The Church has done some terrible things in the past. The Crusades, the Inquisition, and other events in Christianity’s history have had horrible aspects. Christians have tortured, maimed, and violently killed those with differing beliefs. Even today, televangelists and others use the name of God to reap huge profits, while priests commit horrible acts of pedophilia. Criminals use the name of God to justify their horrible crimes.
Nonbelievers often point out the carnage and death Christians have caused in the past and present. However, contrary to popular belief, these facts do not undermine Christianity. I do not wish to deny that Christians have done evil things in the past and continue to do evil things today. I do not wish for us to forget about these things, and I do not wish to rationalize them away. However, the fact of the matter is that the actions of human beings have no impact on the truth or falsity of the Christian religion. Christianity is based on historical truth, and the fact that Christians have done evil things in the past does nothing to effect whether or not the resurrection took place.
In fact, if anything the evil acts of men only confirm certain teachings in the Bible. The Bible indicates that men are evil at heart, and this seems to be the unquestionably true when one looks at what men have done in the past and present. However, the evil actions of men do not disprove historical events such as the resurrection. Therefore, it is plain to see that the atheistic argument in this case is completely irrelevant, a total non sequitir.
If you examine atheistic websites, you may observe that a large portion of the arguments against Christianity have to do with the evils committed by Christians past and present. These are not logical arguments, they are merely emotional objections to Christianity. It is often claimed that Christians hold to their belief system for purely emotional reasons. If this is so, then why are such a large amount of atheistic objections to Christianity based on nothing but emotion? This seems to be an inconsistency.
Christianity and a morbid history?
The most common attempt to justify atheism by means of evil Christian deeds is to point out the rather troubling history of the Church. The most famous examples of severe misconduct of the Church are the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Salem Witch trials. Although I believe an argument can be made that the wrongdoings of these events were not only done by Christians, and that the amount of evil performed is sometimes exaggerated, I do not really wish to get into such a comprehensive study. Nor do I wish to rationalize such events away, nor do I wish to “justify” these events.
However, I find it important to point out that these past mishaps of the Church in particular and Christianity in general do nothing to disconfirm historical realities. Christianity is a religion based on the historical truth of the resurrection. As such, it is not disproved because Christians have committed horrible deeds in the past.
On top of this, the fact that the Church participated in such activities does not mean that such things were justified by Biblical teachings. Rather, those instances in which there was severe misconduct are easily attributed to the greed and self-interest of the men involved, as well as unjustified hatred and paranoia of those who hold different beliefs.
Psychological Effects of Christian Belief?
Additionally, the supposed psychological effects of Christian belief are often pointed out. Christianity, it is charged, causes people to be irrational, ignorant, and perhaps even stupid. It is claimed that belief in the doctrine of salvation of faith alone abolishes true moral responsibility and encourages blind faith. Supposedly, Christianity leads to decreased self-confidence due to the fact that it teaches that all people are sinners and unworthy of God.
The list could go on, but there are several problems with these claims. Firstly, I am a Christian, and I feel as though I am a reasonably secure individual with good self-confidence. (It should be mentioned that being humble can also be a virtue, and the fact that I know I have fallen short causes me to be humble, while not destroying all of my self-confidence.) Additionally, despite the fact that I believe that good works are not sufficient for salvation, I feel that I am still diligent in my effort to perform good deeds. And if the doctrines of Christianity encourage blind faith, then I am certainly off the mark, as I have spent countless hours creating this website in an effort to defend the rationality of the Christian faith. Actually, it seems like Christianity as a whole has done the opposite of support “blind faith” (from what other religious viewpoint can you find such a large amount of apologetics material?).
In fact, the claim that Christianity causes psychological problems in general is quite unfounded. I am aware of absolutely no evidence that Christians or religious believers in general are more unstable. Until this sort of claim is documented with rigorous psychological studies, it should be discarded.
Secondly, even if Christianity did cause the majority of believers harsh psychological repercussions, there is no reason to think that the Christian doctrines “should” evoke such responses. If my belief in original sin abolishes any semblance of self-confidence I have, then the problem may be with me rather than with the doctrine. If I believe in “blind faith” because of the doctrine of salvation, perhaps I have missed the mark. So, even if there was a correlation between psychological instability and Christian doctrines (which is highly doubtful), it does not imply that these doctrines, properly interpreted, should result in psychological problems.
Thirdly, and most importantly, such psychological problems do not disprove history. Even if the doctrine of original sin abolishes my self-confidence, furthermore, even if it should destroy it, we still have not gotten anywhere with regard to historical truth. Christianity, being based on historical facts, could still be true. The supposed psychological repercussions of Christian belief therefore have no bearing on whether or not Christianity is factually correct.
Christianity brings out the worst in people?
Another common claim is that Christian faith brings out the worst in some individuals. Christians are arrogant, intolerable, and ignorant, purportedly. “Fundamentalists” pound the Bible and make offensive signs that read “TURN OR BURN!” Christianity also encourages us to separate from nonbelievers, which furthers intolerance and leads to intense ethnocentrism.
Again, I don’t believe Christianity has caused me to display any of the aforementioned qualities any more than I would have were I not Christian. I try not to be arrogant. Even though I am confident that my beliefs are true, I will always admit it when I make a mistake. I tolerate others just fine, and I am not involved in racism of any kind. Those who know me can probably attest that I get along with just about everybody. And although there is much I must learn, I don’t think one could label me as ignorant. I certainly do not enjoy taunting others with the phrase “you’re going to burn in hell” except as an occasional joke when the situation permits. And I know many Christians who are much more level-headed than me. So it is certainly not true that Christianity always brings out bad qualities in people. All of my bad qualities are in spite of, not because of, my Christian beliefs.
Once again, the claim that the majority (or even a significant minority) of Christians are worse people because of their belief is highly doubtful. To my knowledge, there is no evidence for such a conjecture, and thus it should be dismissed.
However, even if the majority of Christians were intolerable, arrogant, and ignorant, there is no reason to suppose that Christianity should evoke this sort of behavior. Besides, this just once again emphasizes that no human is perfect, including those who are Christians. This fundamental concept is not only unobjectionable to me, it is also positively affirmed in the Bible.
Most importantly, the bad behavioral patterns of some Christians does not affect historical truth in any way, shape, or form. What we have here is another emotional objection to Christianity, and such arguments simply won’t cut it.
Hitler was a Christian!
Of all the issues that are discussed in this article, perhaps the most hotly debated topic is the issue of Hitler’s religious persuasion. The debate over whether or not Hitler was a Christian is found all over chatrooms, message boards, and Internet articles. Atheists generally claim that Hitler was a Christian, and Christians generally claim that Hitler was an atheist. Interestingly, the truth may be that he was neither. 1 Either way, the religious persuasion of Adolf Hitler is a difficult, perhaps impossible, thing to determine.
I used to be involved heavily in the debate over whether or not Hitler was a Christian. I felt that he was an atheist, and I thought that non-theists were merely trying to shame Christianity by placing such a notorious figure in its ranks. However, I now realize that it does not really matter.
There is no doubt that Hitler was an evil man. The mere mentioning of the name Adolf Hitler often brings horrible thoughts, and for some, horrible memories. However, Hitler’s actions are not supported anywhere in the Bible or the teachings of Jesus Christ. So, even if he was a Christian, there is no reason to suppose that his actions were justified. Also, once again, it must be reiterated that Hitler’s actions do nothing to affect whether or not the resurrection took place.
What about the good stuff Christians do?
Those who hold to the position of atheism are quick to point out slip-ups in Christianity’s history and the supposed psychological and character-affecting doctrines of the Bible. However, if we must suppose that bad deeds are evidence against Christianity, then are good deeds evidence for Christianity?
There are many positive things the church has done in the past and many Christians who perform great deeds. One example of a great Christian deed is found in the case of Dirk Willems, who paid the ultimate price for following his Biblically-based moral code. 2 He was executed by the Church for teaching heretical doctrines, but he gave up freedom in order to save the life of a man that wished to take him captive. Doubtless the skeptic would focus on the evil acts of the Church in this scenario, but instead we should focus on the great deed of Dirk Willems.
Furthermore, despite the fact that it is claimed that Christians have vigorously fought scientific progress, a great number of the founding fathers of scientific disciplines were in fact Christians. 3 Professor David N. Livingstone argued that “The idea that science and Christianity have constantly been loggerheads is a gross distortion of the historical record… Indeed, Robert Boyle, the great English student of chemistry, believed that scientists more than anyone else glorified God in the pursuit of their tasks because it was given to them the interrogate God’s creation.” 4
Churches and Christian Organizations have started charities, homeless shelters, and fundraisers to help the poor and unfortunate. I know that some Christian organizations near where I live have positive outreaches in the community. Many of the Christians I know are very good human beings and they all have many positive effects upon society.
So, is all of this evidence in favor of Christianity? If the evil deeds of Christians are evidence against Christianity, then surely the good deeds of Christians are evidence in favor of that worldview! Most likely, few atheists would accept this argument, and for good reasons. It’s because the simple fact that Christians have done good deeds in the past does nothing to affect historical truth. If the atheist wishes to deny that good deeds performed by Christians are evidence that Christianity is true, then they must admit that the moral choices of men have no bearing upon whether or not an historical event actually happened. Therefore, all the atheistic objections we have discussed in this article are exposed for what they are, which is a complete and total irrelevancy.
An atheist may counter that the elucidation of the evils of Christianity was not meant to disprove the worldview. But this is a sham. If the atheist admits that these arguments are irrelevant (which they inevitably must), then only one reason remains for articles on the evils of Christianity to be posted on sites which purportedly refute the Christian religion. This reason is an underhanded tactic known as poisoning the well. The tactic here is to introduce doubt into the minds of readers without using actual arguments. Emotional appeals are used to persuade individuals to a certain point of view without a single rational argument being used.
Why would an atheist use such arguments?
We have thus arrived at the conclusion that the atheist is either using non sequitir arguments or poisoning the well. If this is the case, then why are these arguments so common?
One reason, I believe, is that it is extremely easy to make these sorts of arguments. All one has to do is research some evil act of Christians past or present, write an emotionally-charged article about said event, and then post said article on a website for all to read. Christians should not be intimidated by these articles since they are completely irrelevant.
A second reason, perhaps, is because such arguments tend to have much success. Emotion often overrides logic. You will notice that in a good deal of Christian-turned-atheist testimonies, emotional reasons had a deciding factor in the individual’s conversion. Ironically, many atheists claim that Christians are guilty of using manipulative emotional arguments in order to win converts. The secular community should take a good look in the mirror before they fling out such accusations at others.
It is important that Christians know about the evil acts committed by the Church and Christians in the past and into the present. Once again, however, the truth of the resurrection does not stand or fall on the ethical choices of those who have held the title of Christian.
1. See http://homepages.paradise.net.nz/mischedj/ca_hitler.html for an interesting article on the subject.
2. See Paul Toews, Dirk Willems, a Heart Undivided http://www.fresno.edu/affiliation/hc/dirk.htm for Willem’s story.
3. See David Coppege at http://www.creationsafaris.com/wgcs_toc.htm This site has a growing list of important Christian Scientists of the past and present.
4. Cited from Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith (Zondervan: 2000) p. 219|
Recommended Further Reading:
1. Case for Faith, Chapter 7: Church History is Littered with Oppression and Violence. (Pages 195-221).